Responding to the challenges of kinship care

Caring for relative or kin children can be rewarding and fulfilling. There are many benefits to kinship parenting, including the joy of being close to your kin children as they grow and providing stability for them when they need you most. On the other hand, kinship caregivers may often feel  isolated and stressed by changes in their lives and the demands of caring full time for children they are raising.

It’s important to acknowledge and respond to these feelings and to the stress of caregiving. Self-care is a necessity, not an indulgence. Stress can impact your health, your relationships with others, your peace of mind, lead to burn out and, eventually, impact your ability to look after the children in your care.  

The good news is that there are resources and strategies available to help you respond to the challenges of caregiving. In looking at strategies to help you deal with challenges, remember that you are not alone. Many kinship caregivers share feelings such as:

  • Guilt  
    Guilt among kin caregivers is common, although often misplaced.  You may blame yourself for problems in your family or for mistakes –real or imagined – that you may have made. If drug or alcohol abuse is an issue in your family, hold on to the fact that the substance abuse was not caused by your words or actions. Drug or alcohol abuse results from choices and conduct of the abuser. Even if you made mistakes  and even if you were yourself a substance abuser, you did the best you could at the time with the capacities you had then. Try to forgive yourself and put the past behind. Focus on the present and your care of the child who needs you now.

  • Shame
    It’s not unusual for a kinship caregiver to be embarrassed about the problems in the family and  – Another common reaction, although also unnecessary, is to feel ashamed and embarrassed about the problems in your family. You may even find yourself avoiding old friends, because you don’t want them to know about your family’s situation, especially if it involves substance abuse. You are not alone.  Substance abuse impacts millions of families. Friends and colleagues are likely dealing with similar issues within their own families. Openness about your own situation may lead to opportunities for mutual support and sharing.

  • Sadness
    Sadness is a normal and natural reaction to the circumstances that led to a loved one’s inability to parent a child, and the challenges you have taken on to care for that child.  It is also painful to see and deal with the trauma and hurt that a beloved child is experiencing. Your own life has likely changed dramatically with new responsibilities you have taken on.  It’s important for you to look for supports and comfort. You might seek out a friend or relative or a kinship support group. Hobbies, especially creative activities such as painting, reading, hiking, journaling, and other soothing past-times, can help you recharge.  If you need assistance to deal with your sadness, don’t hesitate to talk to a doctor or counselor.

  • Anger
    Feelings of anger and betrayal are also natural and normal reactions to your situation.  You may be angry at the parents of the child you are caring for, who may have lied, broken promises, and treated you and the child badly or even violently. The children you are caring for may also act out against you or hold you responsible for the situation. Children often react negatively against those who care for them the most, or those who are an easy target for venting. Sometimes the children or the parents are unable to show you that they are sorry for their behavior.  You may need to blow off steam with non-family contacts who care about you but are not directly involved. Avoid venting about the child to the parent, and vice-versa, which can escalate the situation.


These hints are just a start.  Below are a number of online resources that can help you cope with challenges you may face.

Helpful Resources

  • Coping with the Unique Challenges of Kinship Care
    In response to the need for resources for kinship families who face such challenges, and the child welfare workers who support them, the Annie E. Casey Foundation created a video training series, Coping with the Unique Challenges of Kinship Care.

 

The series and its discussion guide provide viewers information on:

    • how kinship care changes and affects family dynamics;

    • how these changes can result in challenges that may affect a caregiver’s ability to provide safety and permanence for the youth in their care; and

    • approaches and strategies to cope with these challenges.

 

Therapist and trainer Joseph Crumbley hosts the sessions. Topics covered are: “Loss and Ambivalence,” “Guilt,” “Hope and Denial,” and” Questions From Caregivers.” Click Here to view the training modules.

 

Grandparent and Kinship Caregivers: Taking Care of Yourself

  • Kinship care is universal, as are the challenges caregivers face.  The Australia Parenting Network offers tips and suggestions on how to take care of yourself, and why self-care is so important in a variety of situations.